Best STEM Robot Kits for Kids
Robot kits can be a fun way to teach things like coding and circuitry, but with so many different kits out there, how do you choose? Using my own experience and some in-depth reviews from our sister-site Tom’s Guide, we've made a list of favorites, from best to…well, not worst, but not as good. There are kits for all ages, levels, and price ranges.
Credit: Tom's Guide
Lego Boost gets our top spot based on its reasonable price, flexibility, and excellent app. The kit’s 847 pieces can be made into five different creatures with good instructions, or into anything you can imagine and build. Even though the kit is aimed at kids 7-12, our reviewer found that his five-year-old had no problem navigating the app and coding his creations.
In fact, the app is designed in such a way that kids can’t jump ahead in the building process, which can keep them from getting frustrated. And since there’s no reading involved in any part of the building or coding, children who aren’t great at reading yet won’t be limited by the app. Available for iOS and Android (best used on a tablet).
Credit: Tom's Guide
Wonder Workshops Dash & Dot
Dash & Dot are sibling robots that can be used together or separately. Dash is mobile, while Dot stays in one place (although it does have an accelerometer, so it knows if you’re moving it). While there’s no building involved for the basic robots—they both come completely assembled—both Dash & Dot can have Lego bricks attached to them, so that you can build structures around them.
Dash & Dot can help young kids (the suggested age range is 5 to 11) learn all about coding using a block-based system, and Dash even works with an app called Path that lets you draw a line on the app, and Dash will follow the path, allowing you to “program” Dash before you actually learn how to program! Dash retails for $118, while Dot goes for $80. Works with iOS and Android, and four of the five available apps work on Fire Tablets as well.
Jimu Robots are a solid choice for older kids who like to both build and program. With seven kits in all, ranging in price from $99 from $399, there’s something for most budgets. While each kit has instructions for building specific creatures, young designers can use the pieces to build anything they want, figuring out new ways to connect the pieces so that their creation can be brought to life by the motor. Once assembled, kids can test their programming skills. Our only big complaint with these kits is that kids new to programming won’t get much guidance from the app, and will have to figure things out for themselves – although this may not necessarily be a bad thing for some kids. Works with iOS and Android.
littleBits Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit
LittleBits and Star Wars are a perfect match! The Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit, which sells for $99, gives you everything you need to build the iconic R2D2 droid, including 20 pieces and six “bits,” the pieces that make R2 move (they snap together magnetically, just like in the other littleBits kits). Aimed at kids 8 and up, the free app includes videos to help build the R2D2, plus additional instructions on how to add items from around your house to make a whole new droid, and challenges that you can complete that teach your droid how to do new things using block-based coding. Works with iOS and Android.
Tenka Labs Circuit Cubes
One of the more affordable entries on this list, Circuit Cubes kits come with a battery, a motor, and a light, plus the pieces to build different objects, depending on which kit you choose. For example, with the Smart Art kit you can build a drawing machine, a jewelry box, or a sign that lights up. All of the kits teach how circuits work together to make a motor or light run on electricity, although sometimes the learning happens by trial and error – our reviewer thought that the instructions could do a better job explaining things like polarity. Once you’ve mastered how to make the motor and lights work, you can add your own Lego bricks and other toys, and household objects, and make your own creations come to life! Note that there’s no programming or coding involved. While the current kits don’t connect to a phone or other device in order to work, some of the new kits coming out later this summer will have Bluetooth connectivity.
Credit: Tom's Guide
Lego Mindstorms EV3
If your tween or teen has ever been on an elementary school robotics team, s/he’ll be familiar with the Lego Mindstorms system. Mindstorms EV3 is the next step for kids who have mastered Lego Boost, and want more of a challenge. The kit—which is also a step up in price, at $350—lets you build 17 different robots, and, of course, you can also use the hundreds of included Lego bricks (along with your own), the three servo motors, and multiple sensors to build from your own imagination. The kit works with iOS and Android, as well as Macs and PCs. It even comes with its own remote.
Credit: Make Wonder
While the Sony Koov is not at all cheap (the only kit for sale right now is a $519 Educator Kit), it has the potential to do a great job of teaching kids how to code. In fact, its lessons start with the basics: What is coding? Fans of Minecraft and Roblox are likely to love the blockiness of the clear blocks, and may even be inspired to bring their online 8-bit creations to life. With many different kinds of motors, lights, and sensors—which all connect to a customized Arduino board—Sony Koov is a flexible building kit with lots of possibilities. The downside? The programs for the 23 items that you can build are pre-written, and while you can alter them, there’s no way to save those changes for later. (You can, however, save custom code that you build from scratch.) Works with PC, Mac, and iOS (no Android).
If Anki Cozmo weren’t so expensive compared to other beginner coding toys—$180—it would be higher on this list. It’s adorable (it sneezes!), it’s interactive, and it can do tricks with blocks. It keeps programming simple by only allowing the block code to be placed from left to right (instead of vertically), which is easier for young children to comprehend. Targeted at kids as young as 6 years old, Cozmo can play games with you, learn to recognize you, and let you see the world through its own (camera) eyes. Works with iOS, Android, and Amazon devices.
Kamigami robots come in eight different forms, each one resembling some kind of bug or prehistoric-ish creature. They do have to be assembled, but not in the way that, say, a Lego-based robot gets assembled – the “shells” are a bit more like origami, but with plastic pieces, and they definitely aren’t made to be taken apart and built again. Playing with the Kamigami is fun, but the coding is very basic – it doesn’t quite match up to the level of skill needed to assemble the robots. While each Kamigami robot isn’t too expensive on its own (usually between $40 and $50), the real magic happens when you get two together for a battle, so keep that in mind when thinking about price. Works with iOS, Android, and Amazon devices.
Credit: Kagami Robots
Not only can Arduino robots be programmed with drag-n-drop scratch (from MIT) but there are literally dozens of robot kits available on Amazon on the cheap.